Summary: The Lord preserves for himself a people who are his very own.
The LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself. … Only fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you (1 Sam. 12.22, 24)
It is a wise person who takes particular care when he undertakes the study Paul’s gospel, for there is no other book of Scripture that has so radically influenced the church, and through the church, the world. Martin Luther was most certainly right when he said of it: “The epistle [to the Romans] is really the chief part of the New Testament, and is truly the purest gospel. It is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but also that he should occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 35, p. 365). In this undistilled gospel one discovers what every Christian should know: namely, the relationship between the Mosaic law and the righteousness of Christ, the pervasiveness of sin and its deadly consequence, the wonder of grace and its appropriation by faith, the sovereignty of God in salvation, the centrality of the cross to the gospel, plus practical commentary on good works, love, hope and Christian conduct.
With this larger perspective in mind we return to the closing paragraphs of chapters 9-11 wherein Paul defends his premise that the word of God has not failed (9.6). As we have already observed, God’s word has not failed because God’s promise of salvation is for the faithful remnant of Israel, not simply those of ethnic Israel. Those who were called and elect of God are the objects of his salvific promises (9.8, 11). The promises of salvation are for those who comprise believing Israel. Secondly, as Paul clearly explains, the Gentiles are also a part of God’s covenant plan of salvation (9.24, 30; 10.4). Finally, as we will discover in chapter 11, God is not done with Israel: Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins” (11.25-27).
REJECTION IS NOT GOD’S PLAN (11.1-6)
Once again, Paul uses a rhetorical question to introduce a section of his epistle: I ask, then, has God rejected his people? (e.g., 9.14; 7.7; 6.15). Most certainly not! How can God reject the very people he foreknew? (11.2a; 11.32; cp. 8.28). It is not in God’s plan to call out a people to be his very own only for the purpose of later rejecting them: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19.4-6; cp. Titus 2.11-14). However, Paul does separate Israel into two groups: “a ‘remnant,’ enjoying the blessings of salvation and existing by virtue of God’s gracious election (vv. 5-6; cf. 9:6b-13; 15-16, 18a, 22-23, 27-29), and ‘the rest,’ hardened by God in spiritual obduracy (vv.3, 7b-10; cf. 9.13b, 16-17, 18b, 22-23). … Despite the refusal of most Jews to recognize in Christ the culmination of salvation history (9:2-3; 9:30-10:21) – a refusal that mirrors God’s own act of hardening — God continues, in faithfulness to his word (9:4-5, 6a), to treat Israel as a whole as his people, manifesting his continuing concern for them in the preservation of a remnant of true believers” (Douglas Moo, Romans, pp. 671-72).
Though Paul sharpens his focus on the future of Israel in Romans 11, the careful reader will note the stylistic connection between 11.1 and the preceding verses: But I ask, have they not heard? (10.18); But I ask, did Israel not understand? (10.19) and finally, I ask, then, has God rejected his people? (11.1). Once again Paul emphatically denies the implications of his rhetorical question: “By no means!” This question sets the stage for the remaining portion (11.1-32) of the middle section (chapters 9-11) of Romans. Given Israel’s unbelieving obstinacy to the gospel, the question of God’s rejection is a natural one. But God has not rejected Israel in toto, because, as Paul explains, he is himself an Israelite a member of the tribe Benjamin. Of course, Paul was not the only Jewish convert to Christianity. The earliest believers were Jews who had responded in faith to the either Jesus himself (John 10.42) or to the apostolic preaching (Acts 2.37-41). Israel’s disobedience could not be grounds for God to disown her because from the beginning God’s relationship with Israel was grounded on a suzerain covenant made with Abraham (cp. Genesis 15), not a covenant of works.